After returning from spring break, the Lions collected three straight wins over Albertus Magnus, Mount Ida, and Emmanuel, all members of the Great Northeast Athletic Conference, putting them in line for for a conference playoff spot.
The top six teams in the conference of eight make the postseason, with the top two seeds receiving a bye in the first round.
The convincing straight-set win over Emmanuel came after Emerson comfortably handled Mount Ida on the road, winning each set by eight or more. Head coach Ben Read said the team’s confidence from that victory carried over to the home matchup with Emmanuel, Emerson’s first game back in the Bobbi Brown and Steven Plofker Gym since Feb. 4.
“To go ahead and beat them 3-0 at home was really eye-opening for us,” Read said.
The X Ambassadors song “Jungle,” with its famous “into the jungle” chorus, boomed over the loudspeakers ahead of Emerson’s matchup with Lasell last Thursday. That refrain appropriately set the scene as the Lions prepared to face the then eighth-ranked Division III team in the country, with five of their last six games set to follow against conference foes.
Emerson competed with the Lasers throughout the first set, helped by a big block from junior Stig Regan and a nice dig by freshman Carl D’Aguiar, who skidded across the gym floor without the benefit of knee protection.
The Lions lost some momentum toward the end of the opening set after Win Kittivatcharapong headed to the sidelines with an injury. But a crowd-pleasing save by freshman Brendan Lynch, which he followed up with a service ace, kept the score tight. Lasell took the first set, 25-20, before completing the sweep, 25-10 and 25-14, in Kittivatcharapong’s absence.
Read said Emerson defended better against the serve than in their straight-set road loss to Lasell on Feb. 16.
“They served very aggressively,” Read said. “They had a lot of service errors, but with that comes a lot of tough serving, and they only had one ace against us. I look at that and say, ‘Hey, we are doing something better on serve/receive than we have been.’ The first time we played them, they served us off the court.”
Junior Nick Rusk had 13 assists, and has been the primary setter for the Lions this season. Rusk ranks fourth in the GNAC with over eight assists per set. Bucy said as Rusk has grown into his new role following the 2016 graduation of Brendan McGonigle, the team’s hitters have become more consistent.
“The more they work together, the more sets were catered to the hitters, and the hitters were able to adjust to the sets,” Bucy said.
A familiar face switches sides
The Lions have always had something of a cross-town rivalry with Emmanuel, located in The Fenway. And the Saints have upped the ante this year, adding Emerson alumnus Jared Gross, the Lions’ all-time leader in digs, to their coaching staff.
Gross graduated in spring 2016 after being named GNAC Defensive Player of the Year. Read said he discussed a position on Emerson’s staff with Gross, but that the former libero’s work schedule made the Emmanuel position a better fit. Gross serves under Bori May, Emmanuel’s head coach since 2015 and a former Emerson assistant coach.
“[Gross] loves the game, and he’s got a good volleyball mind,” Read said. “Little extra motivation for our guys that not only were they playing Bori, who the juniors knew, but you had to go ahead and beat former player Jared.”